Summary

The exact location of the subject of this picture has been subject to speculation. Its present title derives from the identification of the building in the foreground as a tomb known as the 'Sedia del Diavolo' (the devil's seat), situated by the Via Nomentana, a road which runs north-east from Rome. Like many of Wilson's Italian views, it was painted after his return to England, probably in the later 1760s.

The title 'Strada Nomentana' has also been used for two other pictures by Wilson, Cicero's Villa (Constable, pl. 75a), in which a similar ruin appears, and Hadrian's Villa (Tate N00302), although the latter is situated near Tivoli and not the Via Nomentana. A third picture by Wilson, River View with Musicians and a Ruin (Constable pl.105b), also features a similar ruin, although the setting is different. In addition several unidentified pictures by Wilson are also known to have been titled Strada Nomentana (Constable, pp.210-11).

Three drawings relating to the present picture are known. They all differ from the present painting, principally in the treatment of the right background to the right. All are now considered to be by followers of Wilson. One drawing belongs to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, the second belongs to Tate (N04511), and the third is in the collection of the late Sir Brinsley Ford, who reattributed his drawing to Wilson's pupil, Robert Crone (circa 1718-79) (Sir Brinsley Ford, The Drawings of Richard Wilson, London 1951, pp.39-40, 64, pl. 81). In addition there is a drawing for the ruined tomb, with a horse and mule, in one of Wilson's sketch-books, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. This drawing was engraved for The Studies and Designs by Richard Wilson, published in 1811.

The original purchaser of this picture is unknown, although by the end of the eighteenth century it belonged to Sir John Boyd of Danson, Kent (died circa 1800). It is probably identifiable with the picture sold by the auctioneer Peter Coxe in May 1805 as Landcape and Water, Ruins and Figures. In March 1838 it was purchased at Christie's, from the collection of W. Esdaile, by Sir Robert Vernon (1774-1849) as Ruin on a Lake - Man with Mule. Vernon exhibited it with the present title at the British Institution in 1841. He presented it to the National Gallery in 1847. It was transferred to the Tate Gallery in 1919.

Further Reading:

W.G.Constable, Richard Wilson, London 1953, pp.209-10

Martin Postle
June 2001